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The missing man the Sapper who never was.

Brigadier Lawrence Fitzgerald OBE in his work on the activities of the Australian Survey Corps in WWII, Lebanon to Labuan, identified the five members of 1 Aust Corps who formed the Survey Directorate on Corps HQ and accompanied the HQ to Greece in February 1941. They were Captain Allan Kurrle, later Lieutenant Colonel, Sgt Robert Hammett, in post-war years a Major, Sappers Appleton, Bartleet and Clay-Louer. In the evacuation which followed, Kurrle, Hammett and Bartleet returned safely to Palestine, Appleton was lost at sea but Fitzgerald made no mention of the fate of Clay-Louer and, not only his fate, but his identity have remained a mystery until recently, when some sustained research revealed his story. (1)

In 1989 a search of the War Diaries of Survey Directorate, 1 Aust Corps and 2/1 Corps Field Survey Company, the only Australian Survey unit in the Middle East, revealed nothing on Clay-Louer. For the Directorate there were only entries for 1 to 30 June 1940. There were 14 boxes of diary entries for 2/1 Coy but again there was no mention of Clay-Louer. Who was he? An enquiry to the 2/1 Coy Association also produced no information of the mystery man. Members recalled Barleet, and Appleton's loss at sea, the histories of Kurrle and Hammett were well known, but there were no recollections of Clay-Louer. A request through the Directorate of Military Survey to the Soldier Career Management Agency elicited no further information; The AWM web site WW2 Nominal Roll was tried without success.

At last the penny dropped; could the name have been misspelt by Fitzgerald? The spelling Clay-Lauer was tried and all was revealed. In his Record of Service on the AWM web site he was shown as NX8994, Wilfred Clay-Lauer, born at Newcastle, 1 February 1902, enlisted at Paddington 8 December 1939, Unit - 2/1 Field Regiment, RAA, had been a POW, discharged 24 April 1945. Then from his National Archives of Australia file it was found that he was 37 years of age on enlistment, a surveyor and civil engineer; married, he lived at Bringelly Road, Prestons. He had served in the Militia--Battery AFA from 1920 to 1924, re-enlisting in 1933 in 17 Battalion. He only served briefly there before transferring to 1 Arty Svy Coy where he was promoted to Sergeant. On his enlistment in the AIF on 8 December 1939, he was allocated to 2/1 Fd Regt as a Specialist Surveyor TG I. He embarked for the Middle East on 10 Jan 1940 and disembarked at Kantara 13 February 1940.

Clay-Lauer's military career can then be followed from the entries in the Service and Casualty Forms (AF B103-1) in his Archives File. The entries are shown here in chronological order:

July 1940--transferred to 'Y' AA Regt, Deir Suneid.

14 August 1940--transferred to 2/1 Fd Regt, Aust Arty.

19 January 1941--promoted A/Bdr.

24 February 1941--transferred HQ 1 Aust Corps. (It seems probable that he was transferred, in view of his civil occupation, to the Directorate of Survey in the HQ in preparation for the move of the HQ to Greece, but see below)

24 March 1941--embarked Alexandria for Greece.

3 April 1941--admitted to 26 British Hospital. (It seems that he was already suffering from the complaint which he was to suffer for the remainder of his life. It may have manifested itself earlier and was a factor in his transfer from a field unit to a less strenuous one on the HQ.)

'April. There remained in Greece one organised Australian unit, a detachment of the 2/5 General Hospital commanded by Major Brooke Moore and including six other officers and 150 other ranks. It was charged with the care of 112 patients, all too ill to be moved, and other casualties who might arrive. On the morning of 27th April the Germans came and placed a guard over the hospital area which was at Kephissia, near Athens, but the Australians were allowed to continue their work unhindered. On 1st May the Germans took the hospital's portable x-ray machine to replace one of their own, which had broken down, and next day took some of the hospital's reserve of rations.

On 7 May, on German orders the hospital began to move to Kokkinnia, a suburb of Athens. On the 13th 50 patients arrived from the detachment of the 26 British Hospital which had remained at Kephissia, and in the next few days 140 more, accompanied by rations and equipment. The British hospital was there upon disbanded by the Germans' (2)

4 June 1941--reported missing in Greece and transferred to X List.

19 July 1941--confirmed by Red Cross as POW, in Kokinia.

17 November 1941--POW No 22965 Stalag VIIIB

7 November 1942--interned Oflag 3C POW No 2702. (3)

10 April 1943--interned Stalag 383 new POW No 22965.

18 June 1943--left Stalag for RES Lazaret Resemberg. (In his claim for pension Clay-Lauer states that as a result of representations by the International Red Cross he was placed in a plaster bed in which he spent nearly two years, leaving his spine rigid up to the neck suffering with spondylitis and sacroiliac arthritis, able only to eat very light milk foods made up from Red cross parcels. This statement is confusing in the light of his previous and later movements)

27 October 1943--embarked Barcelona.

3 November 1943--disembarked Alexandria. Evacuated to 1NZGH 93/11/43 Tubercular Spine) Repat POW can not be employed active Mil Service)

24 November 1943--embarked HS Oranjie for Australia.

12 December 1943--disembarked Melbourne.

14 December 1943-113 AGH (Concord)

18 March 1944--discharged 113 AGH to 104 AGH (NYD Spine)

" " "--104 AGH (Marie Strumpell Disease)

6 February 1945--RR&GDD transferred in ex 103 AGH for discharge.

24 April 1945--discharged.

On 5 April 1945 he had his name changed in military records to CLAY-LAUR, claiming that it had been spelt incorrectly on enlistment. Nevertheless he received his Discharge Certificate, Returned from Active Service Badge and Will all addressed to Bdr Clay-Lauer. It at least confirmed his rank as a Bombardier not a Private or Sapper. (4)

From the records it appears that Clay-Laur spent about a month and six days with the Survey Directorate of HQ 1 Aust Corps and the remainder of his service in hospital or as a POW. Although he was on Survey Directorate in Greece he remained a member of the Royal Australian Artillery; he was never a member a member of the Australian Survey Corps.

His was not a happy period of service and the spinal disease he suffered left him severely handicapped when he returned to his employment with the Metropolitan Water and Sewerage Board, Sydney, as a surveyor. Clay-Laur died on 15 May 1973.

(1) Lawrence Fitzgerald OBE, Lebanon To Labuan, 1980, J G Holmes, Melbourne, p. 14. Fitzgerald was Major, OC 2/1 Fd Svy Coy in the ME and Director of Military Survey, Australian Army 1942-1960.

(2) Gavin Long, Australia In The War Of 1939-1945. Series I, Army, Vol II, 1953, Canberra, p.182.

(3) Imperial War Museum Department of Printed Books, POW. Armies and Other Land Forces 1934-1945, London, 1990, identifies this as a Stalag.

(4) Details Clay-Laur's military career have been taken from National Archives of Australia files: B503 N6002 and B833 NX8994.
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Author:Lyon, K.M.
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Dec 1, 2005
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